Thousands of Seventh-day Adventist young people and their mentors around the world took part in a special event that encourages church members under 35 to step out of the walls of the church and go into their communities to perform acts of service and kindness.
In its fifth edition, the worldwide annual event, known as “Global Youth Day” (GYD), rallied young people to offer free hugs and prayers, clean beaches and parks, sing in pedestrian streets and prisons, teach tips on healthy living, and show themselves ready to empower, encourage, and share the hope they have in God.
Here are a few highlights of the day, which were broadcast during a 24-hour live transmission from the Hope Channel Germany headquarters near Frankfurt, and streamlined around the world from the event website at globalyouth.org.
More than in previous editions, GYD 2017 was marked by concerted efforts to encourage young people and their mentors to donate blood. By partnering with various blood banks and blood donors’ organizations, including the Red Cross, Adventist members from Perú to England to Kenya donated their blood to help save other people’s lives.
In many cases, participants used the occasion to highlight the importance of giving blood as a symbol of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. “I give some of my blood because Jesus gave all of His blood for me,” said one donor from India as he tried hard not to look at the big needle going into his right arm.
The connection between blood and good health was not lost either. In South America, many blood drive organizers and donors wore a red T-shirt with the phrase, “Great blood is the result of good habits!”
In many places, the generosity of the Adventist youth took hospitals and blood banks by surprise. “They couldn’t believe so many people were coming to donate their blood,” shared one young donor. Many young people also pledged to make a long-term habit out of this life-saving practice.
The 2017 edition of GYD was marked by a recent worldwide influx of refugees—mostly Syrian nationals fleeing from war in their country—and the Adventist young people’s desire to provide them with relief assistance, a word of encouragement, and a prayer. From Germany to Turkey to Jordan, Adventist young people reached out to the newly-arrived refugees in their communities as they offered them food, clothes, toys for the children, and heart-warming smiles.
An encounter with refugees moved a group of young people to tears in Antalya, on the flourishing southern coast of Turkey. The local Adventist youth had planned to minister to the poor and homeless, but after driving around for over thirty minutes, they had not managed to find a single homeless person in that prosperous resort city. A little confused and not knowing what to do, they prayed to God, asking Him to show them which way to go. Minutes later, they were tipped about a nearby back road where a few Syrian families were cramped in tight living quarters. The families had fled from Syria a couple of months before, and one family had lost one of their children a few days before.
“They were so happy that someone took the time to visit,” one of the young adults involved said, tears coming down her face. "Even though they have nothing, they went inside and prepared tea for all us, as they thanked us repeatedly for stopping by. We will never forget their smiles.”
The Elderly and Children
According to statistics from various organizations, the elderly population has grown exponentially around the world. Knowing this, and the related loneliness, health and financial problems many seniors face, in several countries, young Adventists did their best to make them feel cared for, accepted, and loved.
In Taiwan, Adventist young people visited apartments and residences offering songs, free massages, and healthy meals to senior with mobility challenges. In Tunisia, young people made successful efforts to engage with the elderly in their communities. “The message we gave them loud and clear was ‘You are not abandoned!’” shared one of the joyful participants.
Adventist young people around the world also set out to bring hope, comfort, and support to children, often named as the first casualties of war, famine, or disease.
In Lebanon, a Seventh-day Adventist school put together a special day for refugee children struggling to integrate into their new country. In Tel Aviv, Israel, a group of Adventist youth in clown costumes visited a nearby children’s hospital, bringing songs and smiles to the little ones. Leading to GYD 2017, in Morocco, young Adventists organized sports activities for children, including soccer, their favorite sport. “For me, it is very clear,” said one of the organizers. “My talent is my ministry.”
Across the world, the creativity of young committed Adventists during the special day of service seemed never-ending.
Donning military-green helmets and T-shirts in a military memorial site in Belgrade, Serbia, young Adventists gave away roses to tourists and residents as a symbol of peace. Meanwhile, a youth group in Cape Town, South Africa, decided to spend a day at the local fire station to thank firefighters for their service. And in Krakow, Poland, Adventists staged a re-enactment of the Reformation’s defining moment in a public square, as one of them, playing the Reformer Martin Luther, “nailed” his theses on a door to call attention to the 500th anniversary of that movement.
In Milan, Italy, young people paraded on a notorious bridge from which many hopeless locals choose to jump to their deaths. As they marched and showed their banners, they offered messages of hope in God and the future to passers-by. In Zimbabwe, Adventists took part in a massive distribution of sanitary pads for teenage girls, who often are forced to miss school days when they are not available in the area. In Chisinau, Moldova, mothers were honored with flowers and Academy Awards replica statuettes. The message for mothers? You are winners!
More than a Day, a Lifestyle
“Global Youth Day is not only here to stay, but also to trigger a different way of thinking about life,” said the organizers. “One thing of paramount importance is that GYD must not be an event,” said Pako Mokgwane, associate youth director of the Seventh-day Adventist world church and main organizer of the special day. “GYD must be a lifestyle.”
Youth leaders and participants across the world echoed his definition. “For sure, activities won’t end today,” said one young man from Kenya. “This is just the beginning.”
The opportunities for serving are many, reminded Gilbert Cangy, a former youth director of the world church. “We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Many organizations are looking for volunteers. We can join in to serve,” he said.
A young lady from Taiwan seemed to summarize the general mood of many young people at the end of the day. “I learned that serving others can be tough sometimes,” she said. “But no doubt, there is such a joy in service!”